The first discovery is surprising. It is not that the press plays a role in the novel, but rather that the profession plays such a prominent role. Frank Oberal, the federal president of the German Journalists’ Union, analyzed how journalism is portrayed in a recent study, “How Journalism Behaves.”
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In the 51 books that ranked first on the Spiegel bestseller list from 2019 to 2021, he found 1,700 passages in which the authors discussed journalists and the press. Under the titles “Victims” by Josie Adler-Olsen, “The Light” by T.C. Boyle, “The Anomaly” by Hervé Lee Teller, “Origin” by Sasa Stanisic, “Out People” by Julie Zeh, but also “Home” by Sebastian Witsek or “The Ninth Arm of an Octopus” Dirk Rossmann.
A close examination of the bestselling literature has shown above all that “journalistic media is still seen as relevant, despite all the social prophecies of doom sometimes heard,” says Oberal. In one third of fiction, journalism is presented as incidental consumption of media, and in two thirds of journalism it is journalists and journalistic products that drive the narrative elements. I want to say, perhaps it was a little exaggerated: there is no fiction without journalism. (Daily) newspapers are given disproportionate importance here, while in reality readers mostly consume television, internet and radio.
Quotes from real media
By the way, quotes from real or fake media are often sprinkled in lines and pages to increase the relevance and credibility of the story. What is less discussed: the professional and financial situation of the industry, as well as the increasing violence against journalists, their romantic relationships or unhealthy careers are of little importance.
What runs through fiction like a red thread is that the image of the press conveyed is mostly negative. Journalists are happy to be told what and how to report. It is noted everywhere that “questionable and exciting research methods are of particular interest”. TC Boyle’s book The Light says, “You know what newspapers are: they’ll do anything for the story.”
Many journalists are like journalists
When it comes to relations between the sexes, journalists are almost equal, but the image conveyed in fiction is not so diverse. In any case, the conclusion that “in understanding the role of photojournalistic figures, the position as salesman outweighs that of the critic and observer” is not very satisfying to the profession. The investigative journalist, who researches with all odds, is the very rare exception; The heroic role is not really given to a fictional journalist.
Journalists – especially in dialogues – are often referred to in derogatory terms, “albeit with profanity rather than animal names,” especially in narrative dialogues. How fun, isn’t it?
Other results from Frank Oberal are not at all satisfactory. As far as the quality of journalistic work, bestselling authors are in no way afraid to outline a sloppy profession in which misconduct is the order of the day. Oberal wrote, “It can be shown that the German Press Council would have a lot of work to do if it were to deal with contemporary fictional figures in the press.” On the basis of the rules of professional ethics stipulated in the Press Code, a large number of complaints will probably have to be submitted.
No “Boomin” constantly
However, everywhere concludes, the authors do not portray journalists as “bomin’s” as a whole, but in fact give a realistic description of a tense profession. Sounds like a comfort word.
And Frank Oberal still has one wish, and that’s what DJV National Chairman says: “It would be useful, after many years, to address a systematic investigation of the working conditions of journalists in the real world again.” Very true, but this task has to be done, and the bestselling authors do not take over. Here comes the role of media sociologists.